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"Police bloodhounds to track criminals."
That was the headline of the Aug. 31, 1907, edition of The New York Times. The city's detectives were frustrated by the Long Island murder of 15-year-old Amelia Staffeldt and the wave of crime that followed. The Times reported, "The bloodhounds will go on duty before Winter sets in, and police stations in the sparsely settled environs of Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island will have kennels annexed."
More than a century later, the environs are no longer sparsely settled, but the use of man-trailing bloodhounds has proved successful beyond those early detectives' imaginations.
Fast-forward 90 years.
Ronin became the first bloodhound put to work as a full-time patrol dog for a municipal police department in the state of California. His inaugural case involved two armed bank robbers. One was caught by police officers immediately after the act. The other eluded officers for hours before Ronin was called to the scene. What a slew of officers were unable to accomplish in more than four hours, Ronin was able to do in 45 minutes.
Jump forward another 11 years. On Oct. 3, at a banquet in Long Beach, Calif., the American Bloodhound Club honored K-9 Taffy, a member of the Orange County Sheriff's Department's Search and Rescue, with a Meritorious Service Award. Taffy's owner and handler, Reserve Lt. Doug Williams, said his dog has "found numerous lost children and has helped capture a career's worth of criminals, including some who were sent to prison for murder."
As far back as the 16th century, two words are commonly heard in tandem with "bloodhound": tracking and trailing.
Tracking in its simplest definition is the dog's ability to follow human scent and identify articles along the way. Trailing, by contrast, involves the dog's ability to distinguish and follow one person's scent and to identify that person.
A professionally trained bloodhound can do both exceptionally well, and both come in handy.
In fact, scent discrimination -- the talent that enables the bloodhound to trail a specific person -- is what makes these hounds so essential to modern law enforcement, right up there with DNA and fingerprints.
It's true that a bloodhound won't attack the perp at the end of the trail like a German shepherd would. But what he will do is put his paws up on the culprit and make the ID. A trained bloodhound can pick a suspect out of a crowd, and a bloodhound team's testimony is not only permissible in court but accepted without challenge if the handler has kept training records documenting the dog's experience under conditions similar to the case being argued.
Considering the bloodhound's clear talent for detection, some argue the hounds remain bewilderingly underutilized.
Veterinarian Ann Brooke Holt presented "Bloodhounds: An Underutilized Resource" at the National Association for Search and Rescue's annual conference in 1994. She argued that, while police work is their "bread and butter," bloodhound teams are also invaluable to the community in locating lost children, missing pets, stolen valuables, walk-away Alzheimer's patients and stranded hikers. Bloodhound teams, she writes, "are frequently called by their community to find the lost child, elderly person or hunter who has not returned. These are the searches we never read about. They happen and are resolved quickly."
Last weekend, my own community held a special event to introduce its newest resident: Hangtown Hank, a man-trailing bloodhound that was donated to the Placerville Police Department's Service Dog Program.
The event brought community members together for a good cause, and small donations were requested for the care, equipment and training of this special canine. Most likely, the high costs of training and maintenance are what keep these dogs "underutilized." But when people come together in support of something that benefits everyone, their communities become better and safer places to live. Maybe you'll be the person to bring a Ronin, Taffy or Hank to your town.
Woof! Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!"
Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619. Creators Syndicate Inc.